ABC dropped its public interest defense in a defamation case brought by former commando Heston Russell, following two online news articles, a television newscast and a radio broadcast referring to alleged actions in Afghanistan in 2012 .
Guardian Australia reports In a Wednesday night hearing, ABC said the company was ready to accept the consequences of dropping its defense and paying damages because the issue of source protection was paramount.
In a subsequent statement, the station said: “A recent court ruling allegedly forced ABC and our reporters to disclose the confidential name of a key source in the libel issue brought by ex-serviceman Heston Russell.
“The Federal Court’s ruling resulted in ABC having to choose between protecting the identity of its source by maintaining a pre-publication commitment made at the source not to disclose his real name – rather than continuing its defense of the libel suit.
“The ABC had no choice but to stand by its pledge and drop the defense of the proceedings.
“Protecting sources is crucial to public interest journalism, especially when sources fear the negative effects of revealing their real names. ABC and other news organizations must take the strongest possible line in supporting and defending the reporters and sources who have entered into such an agreement.”
ABC News Director Justin Stevens said, “Commitments made and kept by reporters to sources are critical to ensuring that reporters maintain the ongoing trust of people speaking truth to power, are a key tenet of journalistic ethics and freedom of the press in this country.
“We wanted the opportunity to defend our journalism in court, however now a greater principle is at stake: our ethical responsibility to honor the promise that protects our source’s name.
“Mark Willacy and ABC’s award-winning investigative team are seasoned journalists with a solid track record of reporting on matters of public concern, and ABC supports them in meeting their obligations to their sources.”
The trial is adjourned to Friday.